The new service will include:
- virtual consultation rooms
- built-in guidance for court users
- on-demand support to help participants sign in or with connection issues
- simultaneous interpretation for people who need a translator
We’re monitoring the changes, expanding our pre-pandemic work on the government’s court reform programme.
We’re reassured that HMCTS has listened to concerns from our members and extended its timetable for reform.
It’s vital that reforms are properly tested before they’re rolled out.
This page covers:
- what the changes mean for solicitors
- how to feedback to HMCTS
- where remote hearings are working well and not so well
- our view, concerns and recommendations
- what we’ve been doing since the first pilot in 2018
Since March 2020, courts have rapidly moved online, speeding up existing plans to digitise the courts as part of HMCTS' reform programme.
For instance, the cloud video platform (CVP) was introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new video hearings service (VHS) is currently being used nationally in tax and property tribunals, as well as:
- Birmingham Civil and Family Justice Centre
- Bristol Employment Tribunal
- Chester Crown Court
- Newport Immigration and Asylum Centre, Wales
HMCTS will share plans to roll out the service more widely over the coming months.
How firms can prepare for the video hearings service
To make sure your firm is prepared for the change:
- share this guidance on updating your IT settings with your IT department as soon as possible
- contact HMCTS on email@example.com for a check to ensure your network is set up to support hearings
How to join a hearing
Your local court will inform you when your hearings on the VHS will begin and the way you join a hearing will change.
Joining instructions will be sent from a ‘HMCTS.reform.net’ email address and you’ll need to set up an account before your hearing takes place.
Feedback from our members suggests that some cases can be dealt with perfectly well remotely, and this should remain a permanent feature of the justice system.
For example, remote hearings seem to be working well in:
- simple procedural hearings involving only judges and advocates, such as directions hearings or case management hearings
- cases involving more sophisticated parties and/or legal entities, such as in the English and Welsh commercial courts
- more technical or administrative proceedings
Remote hearings may also help to clear the current backlog.
Remote hearings working less well
However, we’ve heard of more issues in cases which involve live evidence or significant controversy, such as:
- criminal, county and family courts
- complex cases, such as contested family hearings
Hearings involving vulnerable parties or witnesses are likely to be best served by an in-person hearing. Relevant factors may include, but are not limited to:
- mental health problems
- learning difficulties
- English as a second language
- experience of trauma
- socio-economic background considerations
- caring responsibilities
HMCTS wants to work closely with legal professionals to support the move to the VHS.
For any feedback or questions on the service, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In December 2021, HM Courts and Tribunals Service published an evaluation of remote hearings.
The evaluation reflects some of the concerns we’ve raised when responding to consultations on the changes.
The use of remote hearings should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
They should only happen when the court is satisfied that justice can be served via a remote hearing, weighing the importance and urgency of the hearing against factors suggesting justice might be better served through a physical hearing.
As mentioned above, such factors include:
- the nature of the proceedings
- the type of parties to the case
- whether or not parties have legal representation
We’re concerned that some court users may struggle to take part, and that not everyone has the skills or means to get online. This might be due lack of equipment, limited internet access, poor digital skills or disability.
- Four out of five legal professionals have heard or attended cases where one or more parties were unrepresented, according to the Youth Justice Legal Centre (see Video enabled justice evaluation, section 9.3)
- Only 16% of solicitors indicated that vulnerable clients were able to take part in remote hearings effectively, in a survey for our Law under Lockdown report
- In 2018, there were 5.3 million adults in the UK, or 10% of the adult UK population who were not internet users, according to a study by the Office for National Statistics
From the outset of the court modernisation programme, we’ve stressed the importance of analysing fully the impact of remote hearings on access to justice and on justice outcomes.
This should include analysis of:
- different types of party
- their perception of whether justice was done
- their ability to understand and take part in proceedings
We believe it’s also critical to have:
- rigorous and comprehensive data collection
- consultation with both the legal profession and court users
Robust data collection will allow us to properly evaluate the impact of COVID, and make sure lessons are learned and applied to future reforms.
Consistent, well-functioning platforms, policies and procedures must also be in place that ensure all parties:
- have access to equipment, platforms and training
- can confidentially communicate with their legal representatives throughout a hearing
- understand what should happen when a technical problem occurs
Our remote hearings working group
We've set up a cross-committee working group as a collaborative forum to consult practitioners' views on the long-term use of remote hearings.
This includes (but is not limited to) understanding remote hearings' impact on:
- both professional and non-professional users
- justice outcomes
Ongoing – every three months, we're meeting as part of the government's strategic engagement group for video hearings, alongside the Bar Council and CILEX. The group reviews and gives feedback on the development and use of the video hearings service
March 2023 – we submitted written evidence to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry on the progress of court reform setting out our views on remote hearings and video platforms
February 2023 – we contributed to the National Audit Office’s study on the progress of the court reform programme, including our views on remote hearings
December 2022 – we published recommendations to fix the court backlog, including more reliable technology
April 2022 – the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act passed, making permanent the temporary COVID measures allowing court users to appear remotely via video link
January 2022 – our working group met to discuss the HMCTS evaluation on remote hearings during the pandemic
December 2021 – we look forward to constructive discussions on the future of remote hearings after HMCTS evaluation reflects our concerns
June 2021 – we responded to the rapid consultation to evaluate the role of remote hearings in the family justice system and in the Court of Protection by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory
May 2021 – we gave evidence to the Parliamentary Committee scrutinising the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. We have evidence on the impact that remote hearings can have on vulnerable witnesses and the uncertain impact of remote juries on access to justice
April 2021 – we published guidance for member safety in court and tribunal buildings, including when not to attend court in person
April 2021 – HMCTS introduced the Video Hearings service in Birmingham Civil and Family Justice Centre, and we invited family solicitors to share their views on remote hearings
February 2021 – following our lobbying, HMCTS confirmed that a number of police stations and courts reinstated remand hearings via Cloud Video Platform
September 2020 – we responded to a follow-up consultation on remote and hybrid hearings in the family court
September 2020 – we published Law under lockdown, a report on the impact of COVID-19 measures on access to justice and vulnerable people
July 2020 – we responded to a rapid consultation on remote hearings in the family courts by the National Family Justice Observatory
May 2020 – we wrote to the president of the Family Division, outlining our views on the need for national guidance on remote hearings
May 2019 – we made recommendations on the Courts and Tribunals Bill ahead of its second reading in the House of Lords
March 2018 – video hearings pilot began in Birmingham and Manchester
HMCTS remote hearing evaluation (December 2021)
Who’s responsible for the cost of setting up a remote hearing? (Family courts)
If you're an advocate in the civil and family courts, see HMCTS' training on CVP.
If you're a defence practitioner, see the guidance on CVP in criminal hearings.